Since this is a new season, let’s try a new approach.
“All we did,” said quarterback Jon Kitna after the Lions’ 9-6 defeat in Sunday’s season opener, “is take the pressure off ourselves today of having to try to go undefeated.”
Uh … he was joking.
But there’s something you haven’t heard in a while. And here are some things you hadn’t seen in a while: passes that were strong and on target. A defensive line that swarmed the quarterback. Two blocked field goals. A first-round draft pick who actually dressed for the game.
Oh, and an afternoon in which Detroit held the defending NFC champions without a touchdown – and was one botched play from a major upset.
If I sound a bit Pollyannaish, considering the Lions did, after all, lose to Seattle on a last-second field goal, it’s because I’ve been here awhile. I’ve seen a lot of losses. This was hardly the worst. In fact, there were moments there when the Lions actually looked good. Of course, only great teams win games like this; good teams lose them painfully. But lousy teams lose them by 30.
At least that didn’t happen.
Hey, I’m trying to be optimistic here.
“So you can write we played hard, well, I don’t care,” coach Rod Marinelli said. “That’s your interest. My interest is winning.”
Actually, that’s my interest, too. But when you cover the Lions, you tend to develop other interests.
Still, you have to like the new sheriff’s approach. When asked if this were a good start, he didn’t flinch.
“Bad start. We lost. We’re 0-1.”
If only politicians could be that brief.
The play that got away
Now, understandably, in Marinelli’s world, there is black and white. But the rest of us swim in a world of gray. So let’s remember a few things here. The Lions, who haven’t won a playoff game since Paris Hilton thought boys were yucky, were playing the Seattle Seahawks, last seen at Ford Field battling the Steelers for the Super Bowl XL crown. The Lions held them to three field goals. They held league MVP Shaun Alexander to 51 yards rushing. They held Matt Hasselbeck, the star quarterback, to no touchdown passes, while sacking him five times.
They blocked two field-goal attempts. They hit like they meant it. Rookie Ernie Sims (10 tackles) is either going to wind up in a hospital or put everyone else there.
The Lions kept it tight. They fought even when they didn’t execute. And with 3:26 left in the game they were just about in winning field-goal range. It was third down. The crowd was on its feet. Kitna took the snap, looked to his right and threw the ball to a wide-open Shawn Bryson, who had nothing but daylight in front of him …
Unfortunately, Bryson never looked behind him. Which is where the ball was. It hit the ground, and 60,535 Lions fans looked to see if Joey Harrington had sneaked onto the field.
“I have to see the film,” Kitna said, when asked about the play.
“I have to see the film,” said Marinelli, when asked the same.
I’ll save them the trouble. That was the ball game. Bryson was so alone, he could have walked into easy field-goal range. Instead, the Lions had to punt, the Seahawks went on a methodical final drive, got one big pass, one big run, and kicked a 42-yard field goal to run off the field happy – and ruin Marinelli’s debut.
“There’s no solution other than winning,” he said. “That’s it. I won’t accept anything less.
“I’m not interested in playing hard or playing well. I’m interested in winning.”
We are, too. We’ve heard about it from other people. It sounds like fun.
Wake-up call for the offense
In the meantime, we take solace in other things, like attitude. I think attitude says a lot about what a team can become. And, as losing locker rooms go, the Lions’ Sunday, on a scale of 1 to 10, was an Up With People concert.
“We’re gonna be fine,” Kitna said.
“We’re going to make this thing work,” tight end Dan Campbell said.
“Once we get it cleaned up, I don’t think there’s anybody that can stop this offense,” wide receiver Roy Williams said.
Except maybe the Lions themselves. After all, they did commit fumbles, holding penalties, and that old chestnut, the throwing too soon/forgetting to turn around passing play. Like Seattle, they failed to score a touchdown.
But this should be no shock. There was this idea floating around that the Lions were going to unveil their new Mike Martz playbook only when it counted, the latest moment possible, meaning Sunday at kickoff, and until then, everything you had seen or witnessed in the exhibition season was smoke. You wait, when we pull the magic blanket off this baby, the hat turns into a rabbit, the rabbit turns into a bird, the bird takes off.
Maybe that works for Houdini. But this is the NFL. If you haven’t practiced it, you can’t just start doing it. There is no switch that moves an offense to warp speed, especially not one as complex as Martz’s.
Yes, we saw a lot of players jumping about, lining up in ways Steve Mariucci never imagined. Yes, the ball was moved around, with Kevin Jones getting a healthy dose of runs and passes. Yes, new receivers like Mike Furrey and Corey Bradford were in on the action – and nobody missed Charles Rogers or Mike Williams.
But this is going to take some time. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. The colors are all there. Getting them lined up correctly is the trick.
Meanwhile, the Lions are again 0-1. And the next game is on the road, in Chicago. But fear not. It’s only September. Only the first game. And after the loss, it was the players and coaches saying this was not acceptable, while the media suggested things were not so bad.
And that’s something you really haven’t seen in a while.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Order tickets for the charity launch of Albom’s new novel, “For One More Day,” at 248-433-1515 or ticketmaster.com. The Sept. 27 event at Fox Theatre features Tony Bennett, Hank Azaria and Joe Dumars. Tickets are $40 and include an autographed copy. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.